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Venezuela: Teeing off on golf

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

CARACAS, VENEZUELA – Mark Twain described golf as “a good walk spoiled.” But for Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, the sport represents everything wrong with modern Venezuelan society. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he railed on television. “Thirty hectares just for playing golf!”

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Golf arrived in Venezuela at about the same time as oil was first exploited here. Many of the first courses were established near the country’s key oil-producing regions. Up until 10 years ago, Venezuela had 30 courses, but seven have since been closed down – mostly those belonging to the national oil company, PDVSA. The government wants to close down two more.

In 2006, Juan Barreto, then mayor of Caracas and a Chavez ally, moved to shutter the Caracas Country Club, Venezuela’s oldest course, to build housing for the poor. But after infighting and a legal battle, he backed down.

Julio Torres, president of the Venezuelan Golf Federation, denied that golf is an elitist sport. “In all parts of the world it began as a sport of kings. Here about 10 years ago golf began to open up mainly in the oil fields. Those who worked there played golf – managers, supervisors, and workers.”

One protégé, Jhonattan Vegas, the son of an oil worker, is currently playing on the PGA Tour.

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